Benchmaster, Master of Benches: a Robot Trap Shop Tale

You know, I told myself I’d take 2020 as a year to learn to relax, reflect, and stop building everything all the time because we’re all going to die soon anyway. And then I had to try and remember everything I did just since late September to write the last post. But there’s more, as in that post, I neglected all of the shop-building I’ve still been on a quest to do.

For one, I’ve been seeking a milling machine to accompany tinylathe (which does need its own writeup), but not needing one for business purposes, I wasn’t keen on buying a tinymill new. I kept an eye on Craigslist and Zuckerburg’s Emporium for good deals on small to medium sized mills – while I could have easily bought Bridgeport sized machines for days, that violated my rule for the time being of No Multi-Thousand Pound Objects That Can’t Drive Themselves.

My other constraint was no round-column mill-drills. I know they’d get the job “done”, but I can’t stand those things because of their propensity to rotate on the column and lose all your zeroes for you. So really I was just sitting on my ass waiting for “The One”, and was close to being able to get a few Grizzly mid-sized mills with square columns (and similar)… but damn, it turns out other people also want them, and they went quickly.

Luckily, fellow robot builder and machinery enthusiast Alex Horne made me an offer that I found very hard to refuse – on my way to Boston last November to obtain Overhaul 1 Among Other Things, I picked up this little guy from him.

Huh. Well that’s cute. It’s like a larval version of the classic American heavy manual mill pattern, like the first instar stage of a Cincinnati or Kearny-Trecker. I loved it.

The travel is about 12″ x 6″, which is pretty impressive. It’s in a similar size class as the Seig X2 type “tinymill” that’s sold everywhere, but built like a battleship. This was a difficult two-person lift, where as I alone can chuck a tinymill-sized machine onto the workbench back at MIT.

So I’m barely 2/3rds of the way to Boston and already have picked up several hundred pounds of junk. Well this trip is certainly going well! The mill came with this very heavy work table which itself was another hundred pounds or more of very dense and nicely finished Old Wood topping a frame made of 1/4″ thick steel angles.

We stopped by a local machinery dealer which I keep calling Hank Hill Machinery or Hillbilly Machinery to inspect their wares, and ended up finding a small treasure trove of full drill/mill/tap organizers. I spent even more money I didn’t intend to in order to swipe these – we made a “What if I took all of them” offer and split the goods afterwards.

So after I got back home and unloaded…. what on earth did I just buy. This is how I operate, as you know. Obtain first, figure out what it is you got after the fact. I’m literally the most advertisement-agnostic person on the planet. You can’t egg me on to buy something through viral targeted marketing, but you can set your product out so I trip over it and bring it home, then I’ll do research on how to buy more and subscribe to your services.

This adorable neotenic critter is a Benchmaster, made by a company called Duro that eventually just became “Benchmaster”. The product? Benchmaster. What does it do? Be the master of benches.

Picture shamelessly stolen from, so go visit them.

It was, as it seems, targeted at the hobbyist or a ‘second machine’ type situation. Sounds like a limited market, but they aren’t as rare as I thought they were, and an enthusiastic community exists around them where people have done comical swaps such as putting a Bridgeport M-Head on the damn thing.

If I haven’t beat this drum enough, I’d like to reiterate a point I made when I posted about crabmower: I bought an old, obscure device without knowing what it was, and someone had made an entire page on how they fixed up and modified it. Folks, this is why we’re here.

Alright, I now had to find a home for the Benchmaster so it can be the master of a bench. Ever since I built the benches, I’d already earmarked half of one of them next to tinylathe for the installtion of a mill. It had recently become occupied by random sanding/grinding tools and Overhaul parts, so there was a lot of cleanup and displacement to do.

Namely, all of my tooling (the stuff you need to USE a mill and lathe) had to be displaced. I therefore was forced on a hunt for new tool organization, which will come later. For now, it’ll just live in a pile on the floor like my soul.

I decided to disassemble the original heavy wooden bench to form a foundation for the mill. The 1″ of OSB my benchtops were made of felt just a bit too flexible for it to be a good anchor, so the plan was to secure the big wooden block to the bench, then bolt the mill through all of it.

The interesting thing about the Benchmaster is that the knee leadscrew pokes down from the mill by a fair amount. That’s why they always have to be on stands. I decided to drill a 3/4″ hole through everything as the leadscrew sphincter

#OSHACrane was used to line everything up and set the machine into position…

…upon which I lined it up with the marker lines I had drawn, then drilled through and bolted in-place.

And here it is, the menagerie of miniature machinery.

Alex threw in the 4″ milling vise, which we both agreed was way too large for this machine. It used up a significant amount of the Z travel just for itself, and this mill doesn’t have a quill (A bit annoying, and a good excuse to do a head swap later on), so its usefulness is severel curtailed. With the thing finally installed in place, I gave everything the ol’ lube n tune, taking the axes apart to adjust the slides and leadscrew nut tightness.

But damn is this thing rigid. Being made back when America was Great, Men were Men, and Steel was Free meant it’s exceptionally smooth (once I tuned the gibs in and cleaned & oiled everything) and I dragged this 1/2″ endmill at 1/2″ DOC through my sacrificial aluminum test piece at the highest spindle belt speed, and it barely flinched. This is a suicidal cut on a Seig X2 class mini-mill, and even if you did manage to do so by feeding slowly, the finish would have been chattery.

For now, until I want to get a 3 inch milling vise, I bestowed upon it my old toolmaker style vise that usually held motors under testing.

The other downside is at the moment it doesn’t have digital scales, so I’m back to using a lot of my “vernacular machining” skills learned years and years ago. My “edge finder” is really just putting a 1/2″ drill rod (itself really a cut-down, destroyed 1/2″ drill bit) into the collet and bumping off.

It fulfills my current “mill” needs quite well either way: Flat this shaft, key this, shave that down, bore this out. Anything substantially complex right now I have enough contacts and favors to call in so I can have a part made. I’ll be planning to add digital scales soon, and I’d like to eventually see if I can get it a quill via head swap or severe head modification.

More About the #RobotTrapShop and Building Up a New Workspace

While writing my previous post about moving back South, I decided that there was enough content about putting together the garage workspace to warrant its own post. You see, this is really the first time I’ve ever really built up a workspace for myself only. I’ve built up and operated/managed quite a few facilities now, and even if it was “my shop” in the sense that I oversee and get to use it a lot, it still was always shared.

There was my time at MITERS, the MIT student makerspace – then upstairs in my research group the MIT International Design Center. Then another shared workspace at the old mill building we called “The Mochi Palace” prior to it being converted over for company use.  I suppose there was Big Chuck’s Auto Body over the spring and summer, but that was a very temporary and focused setup. My hope is this shop will be in place – or at least travel with me – for a few years yet.  But I’d be lying if I said that brief taste of having a workspace that was just mine and wasn’t critical to the operation of something else, or had to be kept up in appearances for somebody else’s tastes, didn’t influence my ultimate decision to seek less costly pastures.

First, before we get to the shop, though, we gotta talk about The Move:

I’d already containerized my life pretty well due to the somewhat frequent moving of shops in the past few years, so I just continued ordering more of the same sized 27″ totey-bins. The FIRST Robotics branded ones date back to the “Recycle Rush” game a few years ago and were picked up for real cheap. This meant that beyond loose large automotive tools such as the engine crane and errant van parts, the move was quite well coordinated. What I didn’t get into totes got put into some large cardboard boxes left over from company-received shipment (e.g. of toolboxes and big plastic tanks among other things).  The 16 foot Uhaul truck was filled to about 4 feet in front of the door, which was earmarked for furniture.  This whole thing was tied up in the “web of lies” formation shown above, as we nicknamed it.

While I’m not that big of a stickler for organization, it was a good time to take account of everything heavy that I owned, and I actually sold off a lot of stuff on eBay over the fall months that more or less funded the entire move! Hurray!

First order of business: Puke everything inside the garage and deal with it later!


Couple days in and I’m working on setting the shelves back up, at least, so I can start throwing totes and robot parts onto them.

I also decided to just spend a weekend in early January and build myself some workbenches. I spent a while scouting Craigslist, classified ads, and equipment dealers, but wasn’t really finding any ones that looked good in the quantity I was hoping for. There were some, but I’d basically be buying new anyway costwise (Then I’d just buy new). So instead of dropping like $1000 on workbenches when I can blow on Overhaul instead, I decided to spend $100 at Home Depot and knock these out. I made two 3 x 8 foot benches in the “usual” hobbyist style – for some reason, basically every workbench I’ve seen be handmade is made this way. Guess it’s a pretty solid design for the effort involved.

I also made a rolling table for Overhaul and eventually other projects, just the same method but with the legs cut short so I could put it on a set of total-locking casters, and have it be…

…equal in height to the benches for easy transfer of things on and off!

Overall I was quite satisfied with the “Majority of 1 Saturday” work and cost. My only regret? Using the OSB as a top. I might skin it in hardboard or MDF later on. The tops are double layered 1/2″ OSB – nice and sturdy, but don’t run your hand across it. I coated the edges with some left over spray-on urethane I brought down, which lowered the splinter factor somewhat.


By mid-January, it’s almost looking like a functional workspace! I noticed there was a light fixture with a broken bulb up above the lower set of rafters, so I decided to get a gigantic 100W (actual!) LED “corn cob” light to put up there. It really lights the place up, but casts strange shadows due to the rafters.

I ordered extra shelves to unpack Big Chuck’s Auto Body and also finally give my screw collection a home.


When the opportunity presented, I also went on tool runs based on findings from Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and the like. I managed to land this ‘vintage’ Craftsman bandsaw for only $100. I was out to get a vertical bandsaw to at least be able to cut most sheet materials to make stuff if need be, and wanted to avoid getting a chintzy small one. This Craftsman was the perfect size – I could wrestle it around, but also trusted it was solid enough to do actual work.


One cheeky change I made though, right after getting it, was re-gearing the saw through its belt drive. It was definitely a wood-cutting bandsaw by intent – there’s only like a 2:1 ratio between the motor and the blade wheels. I changed this to a roughly 4.25:1, halving the blade speed. Once I put a 14 tooth variable-pitch bimetal blade on it, this thing was basically unstoppable in aluminum. I tested cutting a 2″ wide bar through its width (i.e. a 2″ depth of cut) and it was handled admirably. Just can’t do steel on it, since the blade speed is still much too high- I’d have to put a back gear on it or something to be able to cut steels.

In early February now, and I’ve basically set the space up for Overhaul work. You can see another Craigslist acquisiton to the left – the 3-ton size arbor press. I haven’t given it a permanent home yet, but it just gets clamped to whatever bench I need to smash something on.

Rewinding a bit back to the week of move-in… one of the first things to go up is the 3D printing station and Equals Zero shipping area.

Later on, I found this table on the damn sidewalk while driving home one day through the back residential streets. How quaint! Good thing I only have vehicles that can convey large volumes of stuff. I gave the top a quick sanding and oil coat, and here we are – supplemental shipping/assembly bench or electronics area.

Check out the row of Equals Zero stock shelves in the background. I found a “local minima” price solution that was ordering a certain Home Depot shelf size online (picking up in person) and then ordering a certain set of casters on Amazon. There’s more of these now, actually.

Speaking of which, I also handed Jeff Bezos some money to dress out this corner as an EE station. Hopefully I’ll pick up more instrumentation too, relatively soon! Right now it’s enough to put together Ragebridges and whatnot, which is all I need it for.

Obviously these facilities will evolve as I need them. For now, they’ll carry me through most of the projects I think I’ll get up to, and allow some basic consulting work to happen too. There’s the unfinished basement which is currently very underutilized because it’s not climate controlled and tends to be a bit moist and drafty – not a good environment for 3D printers or electronics. I currently have it just as cold storage, but might move more things there such as the van parts shelf if I end up collecting more tools.  But here we are! Welcome to the #RobotTrapShop.